Paul Thompson never runs out of silverware.
I was going to take a bunch of Xanax before I wrote this, but someone explained to me that I would just fall asleep. Open Mike Eagle turned Project Blowed cred into tailored swimwear into one of the most promising careers in indie rap (fuck music, sell shirt screens). Dark Comedy, his opus from last year, cuts through slanted news broadcasts and those big thumbs-ups people try to send you on Facebook. His new EP A Special Episode Of… takes themes from the full-length—technology dependence, race, Skip Bayless—and filters them through Zelda towns and Missouri suburbs. Now the set’s first video for closer “Ziggy Starfish (Anti-Anxiety Raps)” is here, and it’s as uncomfortable as you usually are.
“There’s in-groups and there’s out-groups and I believe in making distinctions.”
The scene is any club in any city on any night. (Jean Grae and Hannibal Buress are there, granted.) Mike usually carries that Wilde maxim about laughter and truth to its natural extreme, but on camera here, his face is unsettling: sullen, sweaty, with dead eyes over heavy bags. He wants to retreat to afghans and Netflix. But “Ziggy” doesn’t sound like an escape plan; Gold Panda’s beat is buoyant and slippery. In some ways, it’s the inverse of Dark Comedy’s “History of Modern Dance”—social interactions are deconstructed through side-eyed glances, only this time, everyone laughs and goes home happy, or at least relieved.
This is how A Special Episode works. The engines of the songs are things that bother Mike, be they crowded rooms or Machine Gun Kelly fans. When there’s finally a moment to breathe—it comes on “Stay Still Awake (Up Before Ayybody)”—it unravels into another breeding ground for neuroses. Why is everyone still asleep? Are my shoes still here? How loud can I watch these Veep reruns?
“Dark Comedy Late Show” opens the EP with Exile’s take on the original Toy Light beat, and Mike deep into his best-rapper-alive phase. The politics are cogent (“And it’s close to an all-out war/ With kids being murdered just for being black and tall outdoors”), the images crisp, the turns of phrase tight. Actually, “Late Show” further cements Eagle as the Biggie of post-sub-prime-mortgage rap. Busdriver is Ma$e, Nocando is Puffy, and the shiny suits are thrift shop soccer jerseys. As P.O.S. once said, it’s a god damn recession, show a little respect.
“I graduated college, purchased all the extra books/ I’m supposed to be living in a house with a breakfast nook.”
On “Split Pants in Detroit (Or Hyrule),” Mike moves furtively through big-box retailers and nods to an unusually breezy Jay Electronica deep cut. “Trickeration” reigns in Paul Barman and turns Milo mean. A Special Episode’s gem, though, is “Raps For When It’s Just You and the Abyss,” which sounds how I imagine the drive home from divorce court sounds.
Open Mike Eagle is from Chicago. Two nights ago, the Chicago Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup—their third in six years. But before 2010 they hadn’t won since 1961, when their goalie was a jovial guy from Saskatchewan named Glenn Hall. That ’61 win came near the end of an eight-year streak where Hall tended net for his team in every single game, night in, night out, regular season, playoffs, everything. All told, it was 502 games. This was in the days before goalies wore masks, when their faces looked like this. When he retired 10 years later, Hall went down as one of the greatest ever at his position.
But in his playing days, he was famous for a streak of another kind: Before every game he would clunk, sometimes in full uniform, into a bathroom under the arena to throw up. His nerves were too much. (Hall was also famous for skipping training camp every year, saying he had to paint his barn. When he retired, he admitted the barn didn’t exist.)
I say all that to say this: Sometimes I get Project Blowed invites on Facebook. I don’t know if the people from Europe and Indiana who add me think I should take the 101 down to Leimert Park, or if they just think Abstract Rude is onto something with the pyramids. That Project Blowed has a Facebook page at all probably makes Open Mike Eagle laugh, but also maybe a little bit sad. I haven’t asked him.